In Martial Art Tips

Last week I touched on emotional pain. This week I would like to talk about physical pain. I have vivid memories of the physical pain that my dad was in the last 15 years of his life. It wasn’t enough that he had emotional and spiritual pain. Losing both of his parents at a relatively young age and losing two of his own children and a granddaughter. Those were tough years.

I was about 11 years old when my dad was diagnosed with diabetes. I had no idea what this disease was. But I was about to find out. It was the next year when I went with him to his dialysis treatment. We were in this room with about eight reclining chairs, all facing each other. I believe they were all full that day. Men and women most of them in their middle ages. I remember the tears running down their faces as their bodies would stiffen up from the cramps caused by the flushing of fluids through their veins. My dad was a tough man 6 foot 2, 260 pounds, a healthy man.

A couple of years prior, we were working at one of the lots doing some yard work and I was driving a riding lawnmower. I didn’t have very good driving skills back then and I believe I got the lawnmower stuck in the ditch. Here my dad comes to help me out and get the lawnmower unstuck. He said put the blade in neutral. I thought he meant just the gears in neutral. So, as he starts to pull the lawnmower towards himself, all of a sudden, my dad hits the ground and his shoe he was wearing was cut in half. The blade of the lawnmower cut his big toe in half long ways. I remember him picking the lawnmower up off his foot and moving it to the side. I know this is gross. My point of this is he didn’t cry that day. He just did what he needed to do at that moment. I never saw a tear come down his face. I don’t ever remember seeing my dad cry from physical pain. That day in the hospital, tears were just flowing from his eyes. A kidney transplant followed. Then my dad was hit with cancer and other ailments.

For the next few years my dad also suffered from a disease called spinal stenosis. This is a condition where the vertebrae of the spine grow inward, crimping the spinal cord causing extreme pain. My Dad’s pain those last few years of his life was so extreme his doctors prescribe pain medication and then taught him how to administer the pain medication in a way that would work more efficiently. This was not a good quality life and looking back, it was definitely not a productive way to manage pain.

I am not an expert on pain management. And I am not an expert on pain levels or degrees. I can tell you what I have felt and seen. Everyone’s pain is different and their pain tolerance is different as well. Their tolerance can also change within a person over time. The pain you were able to deal with at one point in your life may drop you to your knees at a different point in your life. Some pain you can handle, some pain you cannot.

Growing up and participating in sports, playing football all the way into college level, I had my fair share of pain and injuries. I can remember playing a football game with at least three of my fingers broken and/or dislocated at the same time. We were told to push through that pain and not let it affect our ability to play. I also remember my fair share of head injuries, now known as concussions. Back then when you were hit hard, hard enough to cause you dizziness, we didn’t let anyone know that we were hurt otherwise we wouldn’t play.

There was one particular game I played and I remember the very first kick off. We were on the kick off team, as I was running down the field the opponent blocked me from underneath and kind of blindsided me. I just remember looking up a little dizzy. I had blood running down my neck. I then realized I had a gash on my chin about an inch long. Only one solution, go and get stitches. Get it done quickly and hurry back so I could play the second half. I did, I made it back for the third quarter, once again getting hit in the same area. Of course, I needed to go back to the hospital and get eight more stitches. The doctor had told me not to play for at least two weeks. Of course, I didn’t listen. It was homecoming that night. I will never forget the pain I had in my head inside that dancehall with the music blaring. Looking back now, without a doubt I had a severe concussion. I was back to practice on Monday. Playing through the pain of my fingers being injured was one thing but continuing to play with a concussion has had an effect on me my entire life.

I continued making bad decisions like this. In the martial arts, we are also taught and I teach students to push through the pain. About eight years ago, I started getting pain down my legs. The doctor said I had a pinched nerve. Take it easy, this is a warning sign of something bad that could happen. Just like in high school I continued to play. I continued training until one day I felt a pop. All of a sudden, my legs were shaking and I couldn’t stop them. I was experiencing pain from my lower back down to my legs all the way to my feet. It was as if somebody was sticking knives in me. I found out the next day that I had ruptured/herniated my disc. I went from a bulging disc to a blown disc. I went from a tire having a bubble on the outside. To a blown tire causing an accident.

I should’ve listened to the doctors back in high school and I should’ve listened to the doctors eight years ago. I wound up with two spinal surgeries and years up to this day of continuous pain. My fingers are okay, the cuts and bruises I received on my forearms and elbows, they are all okay. Pushing through certain pain is acceptable and encouraged, pushing through other pain is extremely dangerous. I encourage you to play hard, train hard, and push through the pain unless the pain you’re feeling is a warning sign of something greater.

Turning 50 this year, I’ve experienced my fair share of pain. One thing for sure, it hasn’t left yet. I don’t believe it ever will. This is why I laugh at that phrase pain is just weakness leaving the body.
A clerk at the grocery store the other day said to me, “You being a martial artist, you probably never hurt.” I had to laugh out loud. Hell ya I hurt every single day. My thoughts are if you are a martial artist and you don’t have daily pain, you’re probably not very good or you are not an active martial artist. At least not in a martial art that teaches self-defense. Pain is definitely something we deal with in the dojo on a daily basis. Most of the time the pain can be pushed aside. And sometimes this physical pain can leave you emotionally drained and frustrated.

I’ve never delivered a child. Thank God, I have been present twice, first with my son D’kota and then my daughter Skye. With no pain medicine, none(!) during either birth. That blew my mind. Yes, I’ve seen my wife and others endure some amazing amounts of pain. Over the years just in the martial arts school I’ve seen broken ankles, broken ribs, broken noses, dislocated shoulders, broken collarbones and sternum, broken back, blown out ACL and MCL. Fingers, toes and feet. With all of this I encourage you to continue to train hard, be smart, and know when your pain is a signal of something worse to come.

Stay healthy, keep pushing forward and never give up,
Tony Potter

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment